Today is the day for Tuesday Reviewsday! This week we are joined by music critic Steve Hochman and Justino Aguila from Billboard Latin.
Album: From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan
Release Date: Feb. 11
Songs: “All Along the Watchtower” by Eliades Ochoa; “Blowin’ In the Wind” by Kek Lang
For ages, Bob Dylan has been reworking classic songs in concert and singing indecipherably to the point that even some of his most ardent fans sometimes have no idea what he’s playing. Well, not to give him any ideas, but check out this tribute. Thirteen acts from all over the world re-interpret Dylan songs in the folk and traditional styles of their cultures, and nearly entirely in their native languages, and the results are stunning.
But odds are that you wouldn’t be able to identify most of these songs, at least not right off the bat. They’re not covers, they’re transformations. Take the opening track, “All Along the Watchtower,” performed by Cuban singer-guitarist Eliades Ochoa. It’s nothing like Dylan — let alone the familiar Jimi Hendrix version. What it is like is, well, Eliades Ochoa, the veteran son artist who gained a global profile via his role in the Buena Vista Social Club.
And that’s the way it is throughout the album, conceived and produced by French world music producer Alain Weber. From Bengali duo Purna Das Baul & Bapi Das Baul (a nearly unrecognizable “Mr. Tambourine Man”) to Hungarian Rom group Kek Lang (a much more identifiable “Blowin’ In the Wind,” though sung in Romany with a lively traditional scat vocal part in the middle) to the Macedonian brass band Kocani Orkestar (turning the rhythms of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” inside out) to Egypt’s Musicians of the Nile (“Tangled Up In Blue” echoing through the Valley of the Kings), every performance is true to its locale, catching the spirit of Dylan with no thoughts at all to imitation. You have to wonder if some of these musicians had ever even heard of Bob Dylan before this.
And the pairing of artists and songs are not arbitrary. Weber shows depth of purpose giving “With God On Our Side” to Lhamo Dukpa, a Tibetan Buddhist from Bhutan, and Jewish-born Dylan’s Christian-period “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” to Muslim singer Sayfi Mohamed Tahar from Algeria, tying together the three Abrahamic religions. And there’s a wry poignance to hearing Salah Aghili’s version of “Every Grain of Sand,” another from Dylan-as-Christian, in the ancient classical styles of the Iranian deserts, the words of the American folk poet here replaced by those of 13th century Sufi poet Rumi. Totally worth deciphering.
Artist: The Haden Triplets
Release Date: Feb. 3
Songs: “Memories of Mother and Dad” and “My Baby’s Gone”
The recent passing of Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers put a spotlight on harmonizing siblings. And here are not two, but three sisters — triplets — affirming the maxim that no voices can blend like those that share DNA. Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden — daughters of jazz bass master Charlie Haden — are familiar to L.A. music fans. Petra and Rachel were in the ‘90s band That Dog, and Petra has made acclaimed albums of music by the Who and from movie scores using just layers of her own voice for vocal and instrumental parts alike. This, though, is the first time the three have made an album together.
The Everly analogy isn’t merely convenient, as those brothers and Haden papa Charlie got their performing starts on family radio shows drawing on southern gospel and country-folk. It’s that repertoire that forms the core of the Triplets’ album. And under the watch of producer Ry Cooder, they did this old radio style, the three gathered around one mic, singing live. For all that, it’s never “vintage,” even on the most vintage-rooted material, such as the gospel-tinged lament “Memories of Mother and Dad.” Here Cooder keeps a light touch, but even when he is more forward, such as on the proto-country “My Baby’s Gone,” it’s still all about that mic in the middle with the sisters around it.
It’s not all grim by any means. There are winks aplenty in the oldie “Single Girl, Married Girl” and the short, apiologic love-‘em-and-leave-‘em stinger “Billy Bee” — well, it is kinda sad, but the joy wins out as the three dart around each other through the harmonies, triplets at play.
Artist: Jarabe de Palo
Release Date: Feb. 18; iTunes pre-sale Jan. 21
Songs: “Somos” and “Hoy no soy yo”
Spain’s Jarabe de Palo have been making music since the mid-‘90s. The Latin rock band returns with their latest project, “Somos” (We Are), their second project on the Los Angeles-based Nacional Records label. One of the group’s founding members, Pau Dones, writes the songs that have resonated with people around the globe. Jarabe is best known “La Flaca” (The Skinny One) early when the band debuted in 1996. The song became a commercial success and was recently covered by Colombian singer/songwriter Juanes and Santana.
On the current album, “Somos,” really stands out for it’s funky opening with a great guitar intro along with punchy lyrics that speak about humanity presented here in an empowering way. In “Hoy no soy yo” (Today I’m Not Myself) the tempo slows down in a song that poetically illustrates the search for something deeper while feeling a little lost.
The Latin Grammy-winning group, with a total of 13 career nominations, has really created something special here in compositions that shine with strong musical narratives that show the band’s growth. In this album they collaborate with several artists including Ximena Sariñana. Previously, they have also worked with Celia Cruz, Chrissie Hynde and Luciano Pavarotti. Look for them on tour in 2014.
Artist: Los Lonely Boys
Release Date: Jan. 21
Songs: “Don’t Walk Away” and “There’s Always Tomorrow”
They’ve been called the “American Chicano rock power trio,” but Los Lonely Boys are really just a rock band that plays hearty music that’s universal, catchy and smooth. In some ways the band blurs the genre because they don’t necessarily perform in one kind of theme. They’ve been described as a band that performs ‘Texican’ music, and that really fits them as well.
Los Lonely Boys, founded by brothers Henry, Jojo and Ringo Garza, were first noticed in the ‘90s out of Nashville. Earlier in their career they recorded “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” with Carlos Santana. Their critically acclaimed song “Heaven” got them noticed even more—in 2005 the song won a Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal.
This new project features songs influenced by rock, pop and also music that has Texan roots. “Don’t Walk Away” is a smooth pop song that’s radio friendly and “There’s Always Tomorrow” has a very strong pop core. While the songs are mostly in English, the band has been known to infuse their compositions with lyrics in Spanish, or Spanglish. Los Lonely Boys begin touring this week in Hawaii and in February they’ll be in Los Angeles at the Troubadour.